The Captivating Loie Fuller (1862-1928)
Who is this talented and accomplished woman who became an overnight sensation in Paris in the late nineteenth century? Meet Loie Fuller, dancer, benefactress, and world traveler, who inspired scores of artists to recreate her image as an international force in the Art Nouveau movement. Loie's magnetic energy attracted scientists, authors, and members of European royalty to her inner circle. Although she lived in France for over thirty-five years, she retained her American citizenship as well as her independent spirit all of her life.
Loie was born on a cold winter day in 1862 at the Castle Inn in Fullersburg, west
of Chicago. The daughter of Delilah and Reuben Fuller (who was the brother of Benjamin, founder of Fullersburg), Loie was a "precocious child who delighted in reciting poems." She was a natural performer, and made her first stage appearance at the age of two and a half; she delivered a poem at the Chicago Progressive Lyceum, where her parents took her every Sunday. (Quote courtesy
of the Fullersburg Chronicles.)
Loie had a remarkable ability to memorize lines and to retain what she heard;
she writes in her memoir Fifteen Years of a Dancer's Life, "With my firm and very tenacious memory, I needed then only to hear a poem once to recite it, from beginning to end, without making a single mistake. I have always had a wonderful memory. I have proved it repeatedly by unexpectedly taking parts of which I did not know the day before the first performance." Loie was able to quote poets such as Shakespeare; she became a singer and actress before developing her dance skills, for which she became world famous.
Loie made her debut as a dancer in 1890 at a small theater in New York, creating a garment for a scene involving hypnotism by fashioning a silk skirt into a costume.
She subsequently developed her signature Serpentine Dance after observing the importance of light on fabric and movement. Her perseverance was instrumental to her success; biographers Richard and Marcia Current note that Loie had a "dauntless will to get ahead, together with enough intelligence, resourcefulness, and ingenuity to give effect to that will." Her ambition did not take precedence over her relationships, however, as exemplified by her close connection with her mother, who accompanied her on her travels. (Quote courtesy of Loie Fuller Goddess of Light by Richard and Marcia Current.)
Loie's dancing career soared after her initial performance in Paris in 1892. She notes in her memoir, "The enthusiasm of the audience grew progressively while I danced," and from that day on, she "had adventure after adventure." She writes of being surrounded by a crowd and nearly dragged to her dressing room. She made friends easily and absorbed the culture offered by the museums, cathedrals, and other inspirational sources, which contributed to her interpretation of life through dance. At times she ran into complex situations, as when she chose caring for her ailing mother over appearing for a performance for which she had a contract, which resulted in the seizing of her assets. She also regularly gave performances for charity and raised awareness for worthwhile causes in both America and Europe, demonstrating her generosity.
Loie was at one time the most famous dancer in the world; according to her biographers, she "broke the mold of traditional choreography and prepared the way for the development of modern dance." She became an instructor after she could no longer perform, continuing to influence the world of dance. Her close friends included the sculptor Auguste Rodin, the Curie family, the novelist Alexander Dumas, and Queen Marie of Romania. The famous French actress Sarah Bernhardt attended one of Loie's performances, and they also became friends; Loie referred to Sarah as her "divinity." After living her adult life in France, Loie passed away in 1928, and her ashes were interred near Sarah's at the Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. The wide variety of artistic tributes to Loie are an indication of her significant contribution to modern dance and the Art Nouveau movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Images courtesy of Loie Fuller Goddess of Light by Richard and Marcia Current.
Sue Devick, M.A.